Confession: I have never read a superhero comic book. I’ve never watched any of the superhero movies either, with the exception of Batman. Batman, after all, has the coolest toys. While I’ve never cracked open a Batman comic, in my mind I imagine the classic ones to be much like the 1966-1968 Batman TV series starring Adam West as the caped crusader. No, I’m not that old, but as a kid I
watched the reruns – full of bright colors, lots of action, and those crazy words that blaze across the screen during fight scenes. Those words, a momentary obstruction often used to cover up violence but still show cause and effect, are officially referred to as a “hit flash.” The author of the website Batmania calls them “bat-fight words,” and states there were eighty-five different ones used over the course of the TV show and the 1966 movie. Always followed by an exclamation point, verbs such as BANG!, CLANK!, ZAP!, and even nonsensical ones like GLIPP! and ZWAPP! would burst to life between punches and kicks.
While bat-fight words may seem like a strange introduction into Far Arden (2009), Kevin Cannon’s almost 400-page comic chronicling the old pirate Army Shanks and his search for a mythical tropical paradise in the midst of the frozen Artic, I promise there is a connection. Mainly, the connection started early in my reading, when Cannon uses the words “PUNCH!!!” and “HEADLOCK” to accentuate a fight scene. The verbiage can’t exactly be described as hit flash because the comic very clearly depicts Shanks punching one man in the face while his other arm is wrapped around a second-man’s neck (13). Cannon uses the technique throughout the book, but not just to highlight violence. It sometimes is used to describe actions such as “POWER RUN!!” (55), “FEEL!” (121), and “DRAG ASHORE” (272). In the majority of these instances, the illustrations more than adequately get the point across, just like the action does in Batman fight scenes. Aaron Kashtan uses the term “emanata” to describe a visual rendering of things that can’t be seen or shown. Comic reviewer Seth Hahne labels it as onomatopoeia, defined by Oxford as “the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named.” Neither of these terms precisely fit for the gimmick that Cannon employs throughout the book.
Maybe calling it a gimmick is a bit too harsh, but the purpose is to grab or keep the reader’s attention. I would hedge a bet that Cannon didn’t intend to put me in the Batman mindset, but it played a part as I began analyzing different aspects of the story. I lulled myself into a false sense of security, knowing by the end Shanks would get the girl, find utopia, and live happily ever after raising the young orphan Alistair. After all, Batman always gets the bad guy in the end. At least I’m sure the 1966 version of Batman did.
It wasn’t just the connection I made to the comic book hero that made me believe in a happy ending. Shanks and Fortuna both smoked a pipe drawn floating just outside their mouths. Cannon binds the characters together with this visual as well as makes it clear through dialogue both want to reunite. Shanks is searching for the island Far Arden, not for fortune, fame, or political gain, but to keep a promise to his mentor and friend. He saves himself from the Death-MRI by asking his captor about the machine, causing him to brag on and on about his invention. Well, that one is a time-honored superhero technique, used to buy time until help arrives.
Help does arrive, and Shanks is set free. For some reason I had hope that Amber, the plucky girl who was tricked into luring Shanks to the University, isn’t really dead. I thought perhaps the strong man, Anger, wasn’t either. After all, as the others are finding their way to Far Arden towards the end, Alistair is happily singing a Disney song. FUN TIMES! Nothing bad happens in Disney cartoons (forget Bambi’s dead mom). HAPPINESS!!! The golden narwhal even shows up to lead the way.
But this isn’t Disney, and seeing a golden narwhal proves deadly. Fortuna, Alistair, and Amber’s love interest David succumb to the poisonous gases emanating from Far Arden, just as Arctavious did years before. I felt tricked, a bit angry that Cannon had the nerve to make sure there was no room for interpretation unlike the comics of Aidan Koch. The end of the story shows Shanks pulling the trio from the island, the superhero taking them to safety. But instead of Cannon leaving us to hope all ended well, he includes an epilogue that clearly explains all are dead, except for Shanks.